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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: April 2011

Gravitational waves from black-hole mergers

Summary

Coalescing black-hole binaries are expected to be the strongest sources of gravitational waves for ground-based interferometers, as well as the space-based interferometer LISA. Recent progress in numerical relativity now makes it possible to calculate the waveforms from the strong-field dynamical merger, and is revolutionizing our understanding of these systems. We review these dramatic developments, emphasizing applications to issues in gravitational wave observations. These new capabilities also make possible accurate calculations of the recoil or kick imparted to the final remnant black hole when the merging components have unequal masses, or unequal or unaligned spins. We highlight recent work in this area, focusing on results of interest to astrophysics.

Introduction

Gravitational wave astronomy will open a new observational window on the universe. Since large masses concentrated in small volumes and moving at high velocities generate the strongest, and therefore most readily detectable waves, the final coalescence of blackhole binaries is expected to be one of the strongest sources. During the last century, the opening of the full electromagnetic spectrum to astronomical observation greatly expanded our understanding of the cosmos. In this new century, observations across the gravitational wave spectrum will provide a wealth of new knowledge, including accurate measurements of binary black-hole masses and spins.

The high frequency part of the gravitational wave spectrum, ~10 Hz ≲ f ≲ 103 Hz, is being opened today through the pioneering efforts of first-generation ground-based interferometers such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), currently operating at design sensitivity.

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